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Women poets of Hinduism

Shivdasani Seminar
Professor Mandakranta Bose
Tuesday, 9 May 2006 - 1:00pm

Poetry by women can be traced back in South Asia to the 6th century BCE, when Buddhist nuns recorded their joy at finding freedom from the drudgery of everyday life and at achieving not merely social but spiritual liberation in religion. Centuries later, from the 9th century onward, a more durable and powerful tradition of poetry appeared in songs by the women poets of devotional Hinduism, which afforded space to people on the margin, such as, women, lower castes and outcastes, and sparked a cultural awakening that retains its vitality even today. Women, powerless and silent in many domains of community life, found strength in their sense of the divine and their own voice in poetry and songs. Against this historical background this lecture will introduce the poetry of Antal, a 9th century Vaisnava a poet, of Akka Mahadevi of the Virasaiva sect from the 12th century, of Lalla, a 14 century Saiva poet, and songs by the 16th century Vaisnava princess Mirabai. Understanding the intensity of their approaches to the idea of the divine will aid us in appreciating how these works have affected the people of India and continued as a living tradition of women's spiritual quest.